In the previous segments of the this blog entry, much attention was paid to History channel documentary reenactments of the ancients of Africa, particularly the Ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egypt has been the most popular subject of 'western' fascination and romanticism, but this sort of thing has not been limited to just Egypt. It has been extended to other African complexes, from Timbuktu, the Great Zimbabwe, to ancient Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). A good example of this can be seen in the portrayal of an Ancient Abyssinian kingdom in the now 9 year old comedy flick of the title "The Hot Chick".
The scene concerning the ancient Abyssinian kingdom happened to be the show opener, and a brief one at that; therein, the viewer would have noticed that people of mainly European, and to some extent--Asian, ancestry were used to act the part of the locals of the Abyssinian kingdom purported to date back to 50 B.C. As was the case of the History channel documentary reenactments
discussed earlier, the one or two personalities sporting visible recent tropical African ancestry who did appear,
were largely relegated to background screen presence and menial tasks,
which is ironic considering that Abyssinia is supposed to be a
sub-Saharan tropical African place.
Again, many 'western' movie audiences are more likely than not, to dismiss such presentations as part of the overall satire of the comedic show, and so, not worth minding much about, but for many Africanists, there is more to it than meets the eye, since this theme presents itself many times over in supposed "serious" scholarship of African historiography.
"Economic justification" has traditionally been offered as the
motivation behind the trend of casting "white" actors in "non-white" roles by Hollywood movie makers in recent times, which reportedly entails the need to pander to a mostly "white audience"; whereas in the past, such
casting choices were attributable to racialist reaction permeating Hollywood.
Even so, the "economic" explanation has no legs to stand on, by any
For starters, the Abyssinians in the aforementioned movie were not exactly portrayed in a flattering manner by any stretch of the imagination.
Secondly, the scene concerning the Abyssinian kingdom was quite brief. This means that even if such an Abyssinian kingdom was logically manned by "black" character actors, a few measly seconds of screen time dedicated to a "magical world" of an ill-portrayed "black" Abyssinian kingdom would not have taken away from the remainder of the show. If the movie were to be a flop despite this, then general bad-movie making should be seen as the culprit, not a few seconds of screen time.
Keeping the two above-mentioned matters in mind, on the economic (market) front, there was no reason Abyssinia could not have been portrayed as an ancient "black" Kingdom. It would not have made any appreciable difference to the Box Office reception of the flick. Therefore something else, perhaps more subtle, is at work.
The brief opening scenery of Abyssinians must be seen as one keeping with the broader misinformed portrayal of Africans in "western" media. According to such image misbranding, Africans are to be collectively perceived as just a hapless charity basket case, who cannot be allowed to defy that image with description that is much more layered, complex or "sophisticated". Interestingly enough, drought inflicted "hungry" Ethiopian children are often been paraded as poster-children for an Africa that "cannot take care of itself", and which is to be the object of "western" pity and "saving" from "extinction". This is all perhaps a coincidence, maybe? Well, be the judge.
All in all, said choice of portrayal of Abyssinia in Hollywood should not be seen as either a fluke, an artifact of economic decisions, and/or mere racism; rather, it should be thought of as speaking more to the entire enterprise of "western" imperialism, of which racism is of course part and parcel. In order for "western" imperialism to proceed, the so-called "west" is compelled to put down people of other cultures. It serves to condition "western" societies into a compliant bunch, which resists questioning dubious endless wars overseas, while cultivating an inferiority complex among the downtrodden and thereby winning a psychological warfare.
Hypocrisy pervades much of 'western' societies, in the sense that many "westerners" do NOT take it lightly when non-"westerners" play "westerners", however supposedly "lighthearted" the pretext may be, or however misinformed it may be. Even the mere idea of non-"westerners" playing "western" forbears, like say, the Vikings, the Gauls, or even mythic icons like the Irish Leprechauns, who rightly or wrongly have a reputation of being socio-politically "unsophisticated", causes a row across sections of "western" societies.
Such theatrical portrayals are often dismissed instantly as "crazy", even if a show is presented as fiction from the onset. To get an example of this, look no further than the row caused by reports about a "black" actor playing the part of the idolized mythical figure "Thor". Yet, it is generally taken for granted that when Europeans strangely play the part of "black Africans" or other non-Europeans, such undertakings are harmless, if not simply "entertainment".
Go onto the next segment: Pt.4
—Planet Egypt: Birth of an Empire, 2011.
—Planet Egypt: Pharaohs at war, 2011.
—Planet Egypt: Temples of Power, 2011.
—Planet Egypt: Quest for Eternity, 2011.
—Egypt: Engineering an Empire, 2006.
—Robot Chicken, "Easter Basket" episode, 2005.
—Futurama, "A Pharaoh to Remember", 2002.
—Futurama, "That Darn Katz!", 2010.
—The Prince of Egypt, 1998.
—Princess of the Sun, 2005.
—Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon, by Helen Morales (Introduction), Tim Whitmarsh (Translator), Oxford University Press, May, 2002.
—Ape to Man, 2005.
—Clash of the Cavemen, 2008.
—The Link, 2009.
—Gonzalez-Perez et al., Population Relationships in the Mediterranean Revealed by Autosomal Genetic Data (Alu and Alu/STR Compound Systems), 2010.
—M.A. Babiker et al., Genetic variation and population structure of Sudanese populations as indicated by 15 Identifiler sequence-tagged repeat loci, 2011.
*Personal notes, 2004 & 2011.
Appreciation to the San Diego Museum of Man.